In recent years the idea that loving others is the essence of following Jesus has exploded. And this is a good thing! It runs counter to the view that following Jesus means embracing harmful beliefs like angry god, inerrancy, legalism, eternal punishment in hell, anti-science Young Earth Creationism, and homophobia.
Those beliefs are not only burdens to those who believe them, but they lead to harsh judgment and condemnation toward those outside the tribe of conservative believers and to badgering people to accept the harmful baggage they promote.
How could simply loving others not be better than this? Well it is better—much better! Understanding Jesus’ teaching and example of loving others, and his presentation of God as a loving parent who comes to us with empathy, compassion, and acceptance, sets a remarkably positive motivation for us to love others in the same way. This is very important; loving others is foundational to following Jesus.
But this is not ALL there is to following Jesus. Three other vastly important aspects to following Jesus are:
- Sharing the Good News of Jesus to All the World
- Loving Our Enemies
- Bringing about God’s Will by Expanding the Community of God on Earth
Now I agree that these additional aspects can all be considered part of the general aspect of loving other–but many believers don’t see it that way and don’t embrace these responsibilities.
Sharing the Good News
Jesus came preaching the good news of the kingdom (community) of God, and he spent time training his followers to spread that good news. For example, Jesus sent the 70 to share the good news in Galilee with excellent results. Later, Matthew 28 reports Jesus as saying:
Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.
Jesus certainly taught us to love others, but he also expects us to share the good news of the kingdom of God in ever-expanding waves. This is one way we express our love for others—sharing with them a message that will change their lives for the better right here on Earth.
Loving Our Enemies
Most believers practice some form of loving others. Even fundamentalists purport to ‘love the sinner and hate the sin’, which to the designated ‘sinner’ doesn’t feel like love at all with all the judgment, condemnation, and attacks on their ‘sin’.
But even among more moderate or progressive believers, whenever I talk about loving our enemies I get a lot of heavy push-back, fury, and insults. And responses often become very angry when I talk about love and nonviolence toward those who steal from us or personally attack us. And if I suggest treating our wartime ‘enemies’ with empathy, compassion, and care many infuriated believers hit the roof claiming that such people do not deserve any kindness as all.
Yet loving our enemies is part of Jesus’ instruction to us. Luke 6 quotes Jesus saying,
Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you…Do to others as you would have them do to you.
If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you?…love your enemies, do good to them…Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
Jesus calls us to love our enemies. It is part of the ethic of the community of God.
Following Jesus is Very Political—But Not, Perhaps, as Many People Think
As believers, our highest allegiance is to the community of God and not to our nation or culture; “Jesus is Lord and Caesar is not!” So when our country (wherever it is) has expectations of us that are contrary to our citizenship in the kingdom of God we must not comply. And Caesar does not like that at all—many believers have been killed for it.
Fortunately, today’s democracies provide allowances for genuine religious convictions (and I don’t mean discriminating against gays by refusing to bake a wedding cake). But even so we are, to some extent, strangers in our cultures and nations because our citizenship in the community of God always takes precedence and thus operates in tension with governments.
Jesus tells us to pray that God’s will be done on Earth, so the community of God speaks against power, greed, and domination. No matter how accommodating a government might be, the community of God is counter-cultural; it is a challenge, threat, and subversion to the empire as we move toward the will of God on Earth. The establishment of God’s intention for the earth is not accomplished by power, violence, or imposing our beliefs on others but primarily by the transformation of individuals and the culture.
This does not mean we cannot participate in the life of the nation at all; in democracies we can vote, advocate for justice, and protest peacefully. However, we must be aware of the dangers of being counter-cultural within the nation, and even more so we must avoid the danger of being absorbed into the culture. Jesus and the community of God must always be our first allegiance.
Let Us Continue to Love Others but…
I am sure the community of God is represented in some measure by every believer, but sometimes it is so covered over by misguided beliefs, behaviors, and priorities as to be weak, virtually unidentifiable, and ineffective. We should each, individually, attend to that problem within ourselves.
So let us continue to love others but not forget that we also need to share the good news, love our enemies, and remember that Jesus is Lord and Caesar is not—no matter who our Caesar is at the moment. Be an active part of the community of God.
Articles in this series: Jesus, World Religions, and Eternal Life
- Do All Religions Lead to the Same Place? Not Really
- ‘I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life’; Is Jesus the Only Way to Life? Yes and No
- Will Everyone Live Forever with God After Death? Not Necessarily!
- Hell? Conditional Immortality? Something Else? What Happens to Those Who Reject God?
- If Most Everyone Will Have Eternal Life with God Anyway, then Why Do We Need to Share the Good News of Jesus?
- 3 Reasons Why Loving Others is Not All There Is to Following Jesus